Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD, started his June 2 virtual town hall acknowledging the recent murders of two unarmed black men and the series of protests that have occurred in their wake.
The message of support and solidarity for all those hurting in Jaguar Nation and condemnation of racially and ethnically divisive behavior was preceded by an email from Keel to campus yesterday urging students, faculty and staff to show compassion, comfort and support and to draw strength from the AU community during these challenging times.
The introduction was followed by talk of a “now” normal, a new normal which Keel said will be anything but business as usual. As the campus looks to hold on-campus instruction for fall, Keel had important messages for students, faculty and staff.
“To our students, we want to say welcome. We want to say y’all come. We’re going to take your health and safety very, very seriously. To our faculty, thank you, thank you, thank you. To our staff, thank you for all you’re doing now in preparation for the fall. We take your health and safety seriously. To all of Jaguar Nation, we are truly all in this together.”
Keel outlined a series of plans for opening the campus over the summer months. He said employees who are teleworking or using flexible scheduling should expect to be transitioned to on-site work during the months of June and July, with all vice presidents being asked to maintain physical office hours prior to July 1.
Normal operation for the Summerville Campus and all other offices and divisions is expected to occur by Aug. 3, but he acknowledged that some offices, like financial aid and student services, may need to return sooner to make preparations for the start of the fall semester.
“Take direction from your supervisors, directors and EVPs about when to come back to work,” he said.
Keel said university administrators will continue to use telework and flexible scheduling as part of the transition.
Part of the new normal will include face coverings for all students, employees, faculty and visitors and mandated social distancing, Keel said, and meetings and conferences should initially be held virtually whenever possible and only held in-person when social distancing can be maintained.
“While not required, cloth face masks are encouraged for faculty, staff and students,” he said.
Employees will be expected to provide their own mask except when working in a role requiring one as part of their job duties. As for the elderly and medically fragile, Keel said employees should self-disclose and inform their supervisor if accommodations are needed.
Keel said while the plan is to reopen in the fall for in-person instruction, the university is prepared with an array of contingencies as part of the campus reopening plan submitted for approval to the University System of Georgia, including the potential for a hybrid of online and in-person instruction if needed.
Keel said the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget OPB asked all state agencies to prepare a plan for a 14% budget cut, to which the university system advised against across-the-board cuts, citing the need to emphasize the student mission.
To ensure units were appropriately prepared, the Augusta University budget office asked each unit for a 20% cut, realizing some units may be asked to take more or less depending on their focus.
“This is just a plan,” he said. “We won’t know what the final cut will be until the Georgia legislature passes a budget in June, which has to be signed by the governor July 1.
“We don’t want people too exercised over something right now that is just a plan.”
Keel said the budget office did not accept any cuts that added additional furloughs beyond the system office mandate. The categories of cuts submitted as part of the plan include: reducing operating expenses, eliminating 69 vacant positions, taking system office-mandated furloughs, delaying equipment purchases and technology upgrades, delaying facility renovations, freezing positions that are vacant but still critical, and reducing travel.
Keel concluded the forum by answering questions submitted in advance and urged people to keep calm and remain patient as we work to adjust to a “now” normal.